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Matt Tifft: Richard Childress Racing will be ‘totally new world for me’

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CONCORD, North Carolina — After two years and more than 35 starts with Joe Gibbs Racing in the Xfinity Series, Matt Tifft will have a new home next season.

It was announced last week that Tifft, 21, will join Richard Childress Racing next season driving the No. 2 Chevrolet.

Tifft said Saturday afternoon at Charlotte Motor Speedway the move will present a “totally new world for me.” The native of Hinckley, Ohio, will drive something other than a Toyota for the first time since 2014 when he competed in three Camping World Truck Series races for B.J. McLeod Motorsports.

“I don’t know how the simulation of the Chevy things work,” Tifft said. “I don’t know what they do differently on the engineering side or the driver development side. All that will be new to me. New crew chief, new guys. That part is always exciting because you have newness around it. Not to say this was bad at all, because I’m really having a great time with my guys right now and it’s been a lot of fun. You have the opportunity to be there for a couple of years and hopefully grow together and get to a place where we’re winning races.”

There are four races left in Tifft’s tenure driving the No. 19 Toyota for JGR. In his rookie Xfinity season, Tifft has two top fives and 10 top 10s following Saturday’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Tifft is one of the eight drivers left in the playoffs.

He finished ninth in Saturday’s race, recovering from an uncontrolled tire penalty that sent him a lap down and temporarily outside the top eight in the standings.

No matter the outcome of Tifft’s playoff experience this season, he has multi-year deal waiting for him at RCR’s shop in Welcome, North Carolina.

“It’s something I had to do for my career to be able to hopefully stay around a while longer,” Tifft said. “It’s exciting for sure. Obviously, right now the playoffs matter. This year matters. It’s something for sure to look forward to next year.”

Tifft will be joining a RCR operation that will include at least Daniel Hemric. The driver of the No. 21 Chevrolet was announced as returning to RCR next season in the hours before Tifft’s news was announced.

Next season will be Tifft’s first in NASCAR with a full-time teammate.

MORE: Daniel Hemric moves forward with new RCR contract

Similar to Tifft, Hemric arrived at RCR this year after having driven a Ford for Brad Keselowski Racing in the Truck Series in 2016. But he had driven a Chevrolet the previous year while racing for NTS Motorsports.

“He has so much car knowledge,” Tifft said of Hemric. “He comes from a background of working on and building cars and that’s really cool and it’s really admirable for a driver to do that. I understand the workings of the cars a good bit and I’ve learned a lot more about it. But having someone like that I think will just improve my understanding of these cars and what exactly I need to know about them. It’s nice to have a teammate there that can explain anything going on and you can bounce stuff off each other. That will definitely be a great thing for me.”

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Chevrolet unveils Camaro ZL1 as new Cup Series model in 2018

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Chevrolet announced Thursday it will begin using a Camaro model in the NASCAR Cup Series next season.

The Camaro ZL1 will replace the SS. The Camaro SS has been used in the Xfinity Series since 2013.

GM made the announcement with Chevy team owners and drivers in Detroit at the GM Global Headquarters.

“The new Camaro ZL1 is a great-looking race car with a lot of heritage behind it, which will make it a big hit with fans,” Jimmie Johnson said in a press release. “And as someone who’s enjoyed the ZL1 on the street, I’m really looking forward to getting this new race car on the track.”

Chevrolet has raced the SS model in Cup since 2013 when it replaced the Impala. The move is being made because the SS will not be produced after this year.

While the Camaro ZL1 will make its competition debut in February at Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway, it will be on-track this weekend as the pace car for the Cup Series’ Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

The ZL1 name was originally used in the 1960s on a Chevrolet-developed all-aluminum racing engine used in road racing. In 1969, a few dealers used Chevrolet’s special-order system to get the ZL1 engine installed in 69 regular-production Camaros.

The 2018 Camaro ZL1 is powered by a 650-horsepower supercharged engine featuring a similar 90-degree V-8 configuration as the Cup racing engines.

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Toyotas dominate opening Cup practice at Indianapolis

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Toyotas took the top three spots and four of the top six spots in the opening Cup practice session Saturday morning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Denny Hamlin, driving a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, led the way with a lap of 187.414 mph. He was followed by Furniture Row Racing’s Martin Truex Jr., whose Toyota went 185.559 mph. JGR driver Matt Kenseth was next at 185.200 in his Toyota.

Kasey Kahne was fourth for Hendrick Motorsports, leading his Chevrolet to a lap of 185.151 mph. Kyle Larson was next at 185.002 mph in his Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. The top Ford was Ryan Blaney. He was eight in his Wood Brothers Racing ride at 184.453 mph.

There were no incidents in the 55-minute session.

Final Cup practice is scheduled to go from 11 – 11:55 a.m. ET on CNBC.

Click here for full practice report

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NASCAR ‘aggressively pursuing’ new manufacturers

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NASCAR is in “aggressive conversations” with manufacturers to join the sport, Steve O’Donnell told “The Morning Drive’’ on Monday.

“We are aggressively pursuing new (manufacturers),’’ O’Donnell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio without divulging details. “We want to make sure that they come in similar to how Toyota did and it’s really changed the sport. They’ve done a tremendous job and really helped the industry.

“Those conversations are ongoing. It’s a tough process. There’s a lot to consider doing this, but that is a huge goal for the sport right now.’’

Toyota was the last manufacturer to move to the Monster Energy Cup Series, joining in 2007. Toyota debuted in NASCAR’S Goody Dash Series in 2000 and moved to the Truck series in 2004 before going to Cup and Xfinity three years later.

Toyota won its first Cup title in 2015 with Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing.

The Cup series last had four manufacturers in 2012 with Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford and Toyota. Dodge left the sport after that season, going out with Brad Keselowski and Team Penske winning the Cup title for the manufacturer. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne told reporters in December that he thought the Dodge brand, owned by Chrysler, possibly could return to NASCAR but didn’t give any timetable.

Talk of manufacturers come as Keselowski stated last week on “Race Hub” on Fox Sports 1 that adding a fourth manufacturer is the “most important things that we could do to this sport right now. … Everyone wins with the increased competition, the increased investment and the return to our fans and to the sport in general.’’

After crashing Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway, Keselowski was vocal about the car design, saying that changes need to be made.

“It is time for the sport to design a new car that is worthy of where this sport deserves to be and the show it deserves to put on for its fans,’’ he said.

O’Donnell said he was “disappointed” in Keselowski’s comments about the current car.

“My immediate (reaction) is that Brad Keselowski had input on this rules package,’’ O’Donnell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Monday. “I think he was frustrated. He had a tough night, and the cars are supposed to be hard to drive. These are the best drivers in the world. You’ve got one of the best seasons we’ve had in a while in the terms of different winners. I’d chalk that up with frustration, heat of the moment, but it’s something we always work on improving the racing.

“Brad is a leader of our sport. Understand heat of the moment but definitely disappointing to see that because I think you’ve got to take the entire context and that’s more of our job. You can’t react just to one event, obviously, unless it’s a safety thing where you’ve got to make an immediate change. For us it’s balancing what we’ve seen over the entirety of the year to so far.’’

O’Donnell said last week on the NASCAR on NBC podcast with Nate Ryan that NASCAR would meet with team owners this month to begin working on the long-term strategy for the Gen 7 car, which could make its debut in two to four years.

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NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ep. 84: Alba Colon on keeping secrets and Chevy’s ‘secret’ simulator

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Chevrolet Program Manager Alba Colon likes joking the NASCAR teams she oversees are her kids, and the primary challenge is getting them to play well and share together.

And just as with any sibling rivalry, even when the cooperation is strong, there still is the potential for a family squabble.

“They’re all hiding something from each other, right?” Colon asked with a laugh during the NASCAR on NBC podcast. “Because they need to go win Sunday, but it’s the whole concept of we have to develop the tools to get better.”

That plan seems to be working this season with Chevy leading the series in manufacturer wins (seven) that are spread across its three key partner teams, Hendrick Motorsports, Chip Ganassi Racing and Richard Childress Racing.

Colon said the departure of Stewart-Haas Racing after the 2016 season engendered a renewed spirit of collaboration between the three organizations. The podcast was taped in a conference room at Ganassi’s shop, where Colon had met with executives from all three teams as part of a monthly meeting.

“A lot of things changed for Chevrolet at the end of (2016),” she said. “We always had a key partner concept, and when the changes happened, we got together and said, ‘Now there’s three of us. We have to get better and improve the way we do things.

“We work together as much as we can during the week, but Sunday, it’s one against the other. I’ve seen how we’re getting better and better at working together and that’s been fascinating.”

The teams have split the work of building and testing a wheel force transducer vehicle that should help optimize aerodynamics, and when they joined forces recently on another top-secret project, “it nearly gave me a heart attack,” Colon said.

The trick is General Motors can foster only so much team spirit without infringing upon proprietary information that can’t be shared across its teams. Colon sometimes takes copious notes to ensure she is cordoning off data.

“You need to have a conversation with teams to put that data in your brain but as soon as you get out of the building, you need to forget it,” she said. “Trust is a big deal. If you lose the trust, it’s not going to work. We have to know a lot of things. How do you help to give an answer without giving away (other teams’ information), that’s the magic that we need to all work together. How do you make things happen without giving away your trust?”

Colon, who has worked in NASCAR for General Motors since 1994, said it depends on the dynamics of those monthly meetings with Ganassi, Hendrick and RCR, finding the right people “to make decisions so that everything seems open but stays in the room.”

Another facet of Chevy improvement stems from a driver simulator that opened in Huntersville two years ago. (Chevy hasn’t showcased it to the public yet, and when asked if it’s in an undetermined location off I-77, Colon joked, “that’s very true and as much as we can discuss.”)

Ford Performance and Toyota Racing Development were ahead in building their driver simulators, but Colon said Chevy recently has been validated by buy-in from several drivers. Dale Earnhardt Jr. tested on the simulator before Dover International Speedway, and Colon said Jimmie Johnson logged several sessions of making laps in virtual reality.

“You see drivers asking for that, you’re doing something right,” Colon said. “We are not near where we need to be with it, though. We still are working on it.”

Other topics discussed by Colon on the podcast:

–Her joy at seeing the No. 3 win for the first time in nearly 17 years in Cup. At one of her first sessions as a GM engineer in 1994, Colon was told at Talladega Superspeedway by Dale Earnhardt that “I will not give you more than a year” in NASCAR.

“It made me a little bit mad, but he helped me,” said Colon, who has a prized photo with Earnhardt after his 1995 Brickyard 400 wins. “When someone says you can’t do something, that inspired me more. He helped me to get to where I am. He told me, ‘I knew you could do it.’ He’d be so amazed with everything his son has accomplished. He’d be proud looking at all of us.”

–The impact of engineering in NASCAR and the quest of Colon, who has a mechanical engineering background, to drive more women into the field;

–The battle to recruit more engineers to NASCAR away from Silicon Valley.

–The future of NASCAR in an era of autonomous cars.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone.

It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.